The Peloponnesian War

The ancient Roman army embodied a near-compulsive military precision. For this reason, the development of events and strategies during the Peloponnesian War and the Second Punic War were stunning departures from the established battle routines of the time and of the imperial powerhouse of Rome herself. In the Peloponnesian War, it was unclear if Sparta’s defeat was even possible; in the Second Punic War, Rome narrowly escaped a clever international trap of broken allegiances to countries and to the empire’s citizens. These two wars pitted countries which were extraordinarily even-matched and beg many questions about the influence of military strategies and how these strategies relate to the theories of two of the most famous strategists, Sun Tzu and Carl Clausewitz.

Much of the available information concerning the Peloponnesian War is recorded in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, which chronicles the events and analyzes them in a way which would be further developed by political theories of realism two millenniums later. Although he expresses his belief that the Athenians and Spartans were destined to go to war, there is a lamentation of past behavior and a contradictory expression of the unlikely possibility that the study of such history will prevent similar skirmishes in the future. His case study depicts the conflict as one of false optimism for both parties- one which both had assumed would end in another easy victory. The various military strategies are strikingly similar to accepted power strategies: a) political self-organization, b) internal legitimacy, c) diplomacy, d) external/ international legitimacy, e) economic policy, and f) military power. Ironically, the tension was restored by the discussions of Athens’ intention to rebuild a wall which Sparta deemed unnecessary. Fear is a crucial factor in the irrationality of decisions which finally pushed this tension into a full-scale war. The lack of threats and definite consequences pushes fear into the realm of the irrational uncertainty.